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Linkstrom v. Golden T. Farms Trumbower

argued: June 1, 1989.

LINKSTROM, DEBORAH, AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF SYLVESTRE GARCIA, JR., DECEASED, APPELLANT
v.
GOLDEN T. FARMS TRUMBOWER, DOUGLAS FRANKLIN TRUMBOWER, ORD GALLARDO, MARCELO AND GALLARDO, CRISELDA



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 87-5462.

Author: Higginbotham

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

This wrongful death action concerns a young migrant farm worker who died in an agricultural accident. The trial judge refused to permit the plaintiff's farm safety expert to testify regarding the safety practices a reasonable and prudent farmer would follow, and the plaintiff appeals that ruling. We review an evidentiary ruling of the district court for abuse of discretion. In re Japanese Electronic Products, 723 F.2d 238, 260 (3d Cir. 1983), rev'd on other grounds, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986).

In our review, "[error] may not be predicated upon a ruling which admits or excludes evidence unless a substantial right of the party is affected . . ." Fed.R.Evid. 103(a).

I.

The facts of this case as recounted below are simple and essentially undisputed. On the day of his death, Sylvestre Garcia, Jr. ("Garcia"), age 14, was working on the farm of Douglas Trumbower as a "dumper," a person who stands on the back of a flat-bed truck and dumps tomatoes picked by others into bins. Appellant's Appendix ("App.") at 37, 91.

At the time of the fatal accident, the tomato picking operation was moving from one tomato field to another, through an apple orchard, and Garcia was standing on the flat-bed truck as it went. App. at 88-89, 91-92. Ord Trumbower, the father of Douglas Trumbower, owner of the farm that his son leased and allegedly his son's agent, knew that dumpers sometimes rode between fields standing on trucks. On the day of the accident Ord Trumbower drove through the orchard, aware that a flat-bed truck was behind him. App. at 22-23, 50-51, 54-58, 84-86. No one saw the accident. A few moments after the flat-bed truck drove into the orchard, Garcia lay unconscious on the ground, under the damaged branch of an apple tree; he died almost immediately thereafter. App. at 95-97.

II.

The appellant, Deborah Linkstrom, administratrix of Garcia's estate, claims that the trial judge abused his discretion in refusing to permit a farm safety expert to testify. We agree.

The admissibility of expert opinion evidence is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. It provides:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

Fed.R.Evid. 702.

This court has noted that "[helpfulness] is the touchstone of Rule 702," Breidor v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 722 F.2d 1134, 1139 (3d Cir. 1983). It has further indicated that it will interpret possible helpfulness to the trier of fact broadly and will favor admissibility in doubtful cases.

"[Doubts] about whether an expert's testimony will be useful should generally be resolved in favor of admissibility unless there are strong factors such as time or surprise favoring exclusions. The jury is intelligent enough, aided by ...


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